Forensics is a fascinating area of study and one that helps pave a path to a wealth of career opportunities. There are many types of forensics jobs, including DNA analyst, ballistics expert, bloodstain pattern analyst, polygraph examiner, and other forms of forensic scientists, as described by the National Institute of Justice. These jobs typically combine various sciences and engineering with matters of law and policy.
The term “forensics” encompasses a number of subcategories. Many who study forensics pursue extraordinary specializations in areas such as chemistry, microbiology, and even entomology, the study of insects. Furthermore, additional sub-specialties exist within those realms. For example, within forensic entomology, students can focus on the patterns of individual species, such as ticks, while others who focus on forensic chemistry may examine fire pattern analysis.
This article profiles 15 renowned forensics professors who focus their research on remarkable realms that help to advance the discipline as a whole.
Dr. Jack Ballantyne is a professor within the Department of Chemistry at the University of Central Florida. He researches the development of novel Y chromosome genetic markers, the assessment and in vitro repair of DNA damage, tissue source identification by RNA expression profiling, the determination of individual physical characteristics by DNA typing, and "smart" single cell or low copy number analysis. His goal is to conduct pure and applied research to improve the capabilities of bio-molecular forensic scientists to either associate an individual with (or exclude falsely accused individuals of) a particular crime. Dr. Ballantyne was also recently awarded the 20-Year Service Award by the university. He completed his bachelor's degree in biochemistry at the University of Glasgow, his master's in forensic science at the University of Strathclyde, and his doctorate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
At Boston University, Amy Brodeur serves as an assistant professor and full-time faculty member teaching and supervising research projects that focus on bloodstain pattern investigation, forensic biology, physical evidence comparison, and crime scene investigation. Some of her research interests include the recovery of epithelial cells from clothing and handled items, the optimization of blood screening methods for subsequent DNA analysis, sperm retention and transfer on washed pieces of evidence, the detection of blood and semen on burned items, and the detection of saliva stains on skin. At the university, she also oversees the admissions committee and maintains and administers the forensic biology lab, and is tasked with ensuring that the BMFS program continues to meet the standards necessary to support FEPAC accreditation.
Dr. Andres Campiglia is a professor and graduate coordinator in the chemistry department of the University of Central Florida. His research centers on the development of novel analytical approaches based on multidimensional luminescence spectroscopy. Specifically, he aims to take advantage of fluorescence and phosphorescence phenomena to directly determine target compounds in complex samples; to study mechanisms of interaction between chemical species in the liquid phase; and to elucidate solid-liquid interfacial phenomena. He also works on a second project that deals with new strategies for targeting specific proteins in complex physiological fluids. His two other projects target particular needs in forensic science and nanotechnology. Dr. Campiglia earned his bachelor's and his master's in chemistry from the University of Brazil and his doctorate in the same subject from the University of Florida.
Dr. Robin Cotton is a professor in the anatomy and neurobiology department at Boston University, where she also serves as director of the biomedical forensic sciences program. Her areas of expertise include forensic DNA testing of evidence in criminal cases, DNA extraction methods, and DNA separation through capillary electrophoresis. She also focuses on the interpretation of forensic DNA data when only small amounts are available. Before her tenure at BU, she was a laboratory director at Cellmark Diagnostics for almost 20 years. Dr. Cotton is renowned as an expert in the fields of analysis of biological evidence and DNA identification, and she has testified in more than 200 court cases. She completed her doctorate in molecular biology and biochemistry from the University of California, Irvine.
At Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Christopher Ehrhardt serves as an associate professor in the forensic science department, where his research focuses on forensic biology, microbiology, and trace evidence analysis. He manages a microbial culturing facility that investigates the chemical and biological signatures associated with the production process of illicitly-grown bacteria (e.g., Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis). Furthermore, his lab works on developing new methods for analyzing complex cell mixtures that are recovered as evidence from a crime scene. Dr. Ehrhardt holds a bachelor's in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Connecticut and a doctorate in earth and environmental sciences from UC Santa Barbara. After his doctorate, he completed two postdoctoral appointments at the FBI Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Dr. Anthony B. Falsetti is both a faculty member with ASU's Forensic Science Initiative and a board-certified forensic anthropologist. He works to apply the latest research and technology in skeletal anatomy to the resolution of missing and unidentified persons worldwide. Currently, his research focuses on using CT Scans to collect 3D data for purposes of establishing new aging standards and to improve our understanding of facial growth in sub-adults, as well as examining the use of GIS to help resolve missing persons cases. Dr. Falsetti completed a master's and doctorate in biological anthropology at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and a postdoctoral fellowship in ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University.
Dr. Rima Franklin is an associate professor and the interim chair of the forensic science department at Virginia Commonwealth University. She concentrates her research on the microbial ecology and environmental microbiology. Her dissertation research focused on studying spatial patterns in microbial communities and determining the essential factors that control their distribution and activity. She is currently working on three research projects, one of which focuses on geomicrobiology and the food web structure of submerged cave systems in Florida and Bermuda. Dr. Franklin earned her doctorate in environmental science with a concentration in microbial ecology from the University of Virginia.
Dr. Kenneth Furton is the provost, executive vice president, and chief operating officer of Florida International University. As a leading scholar in forensic chemistry and scent detection, his research focuses on four specific areas, one of which is the development of human scent as a biometric and for class determination and source of disease biomarkers including optimal scent sources as well as sampling and analysis methods. Some of his recent research was funded by Colgate-Palmolive, the Department of Education, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among other prominent organizations. Dr. Furton completed his bachelor's degree in forensic science at the University of Central Florida, his doctorate in analytical chemistry at Wayne State University, and postdoctoral studies in nuclear chemistry at the Swansea University.
Dr. Oliver Grundmann is a clinical assistant professor in the medicinal chemistry and adult and elderly nursing departments at the University of Florida. Dr. Grundmann’s research areas include the search for new natural treatment options for central nervous system diseases, as well as the structural elucidation of new drug entities derived from natural products and natural poisons. He also researches the implementation and impact of national and international collaborations for curricular development in the natural sciences. Dr. Grundmann obtained a master's of education in educational technology, a master of science in forensic toxicology, and a doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences, all from the University of Florida.
Catherine G. Rushton is a professor and the director of the forensic science graduate program at Marshall University. Her research interests include fingerprints, forensic science education, and palynology, which is the study of pollens, grains, and other spores. In collaboration with her colleagues, Ms. Rushton worked on the history and use of stains, the optimization of media for preservation, and heat tolerances. She also created a procedure for the development of latent prints on both sides of adhesive tape simultaneously. Professor Rushton completed a bachelor's in biological sciences and a master's in forensic science from Marshall University.
At the University of Central Florida, Dr. Michael Sigman leads a research group that addresses pattern recognition in forensic fire debris analysis. In addition to his professorial duties, his research focuses on gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, which is the industry standard method for analysis of fire debris samples. Dr. Sigman was inducted into the UCF chapter of the National Academy of Inventors as recognition for his multiple patents. Dr. Sigman studied chemistry at the undergraduate level at Southwest Missouri State University. He completed his doctorate in organic chemistry at Florida State University, then went on to complete two NIH postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago.
Dr. Pete Teel is a distinguished Regents professor and the associate department head for the entomology programs. He is also the associate director of the forensic and investigative sciences program at Texas A&M University, where he focuses his research on biology, ecology, and the management of ticks affecting humans, livestock, pets, and wildlife. Some of his specific topics of interest include simulation modeling, non-invasive technologies for detection of tick-infested animals, genomic and transcriptomic comparisons among several species of Ixodid and Argasid ticks, and tick-host-landscape-climate level interactions affecting population dynamics and management. Using his expertise, Dr. Teel has led courses on career preparation for undergraduate students in degree programs of entomology and forensic and investigative sciences. Dr. Teel obtained his master's in entomology from Texas A&M University and his doctorate in the same subject from Oklahoma State University.
At Texas A&M University, Dr. Jeff Tomberlin serves as an associate professor and program director of the forensic and investigative sciences program. His research focuses on the ecology and biology of flies associated with decomposing matter. He is currently researching proper methods for suppressing fly populations associated with animal waste on confined animal facilities, as well as the biology of insects that colonize human remains to help law enforcement estimate the time of colonization of a corpse to provide a minimum postmortem interval. He has published an array of work that has appeared in Environmental Entomology and the Journal of Agricultural and Urban Entomology, among others. Dr. Tomberlin studied biological sciences at the undergraduate level at the University of Georgia. He earned his master's in entomology from Clemson University and his doctorate in the same subject from the University of Georgia.
Dr. Lauren Waugh is a professor in the forensic science graduate program at Marshall University. She is also a member of the pharmacology and toxicology subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for the Evaluation of Controlled Substance Analogs (ACECSA), and a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Some of her areas of research include determination of cannabinoid receptor binding and agonist activity of synthetic cannabinoid compounds; evaluating buprenorphine metabolism in opiate-addicted mothers and fetal tissue as a predictor of neonatal abstinence syndrome; and determining the possible role of cytochrome P450 genetic polymorphisms in unexpected methadone fatality. Dr. Waugh obtained her undergraduate degree in biology at Penn State University, and her master's degree in forensic sciences and her doctorate in biomedical sciences and toxicology from Marshall University.
Dr. Jeffrey Wells is a faculty member at Florida International University's International Forensic Research Institute, where he also serves as the graduate program director and advisor for the graduate forensic science program. His research focuses on the development of new genotyping methods and statistical analyses for forensic biology and insect evolution. Specifically, his current projects cover novel protocols for human identity and paternity testing, population genetics of forensically important insects, biosystematics of the fly superfamily Oestroidea, and statistical methods for estimating time of death. Dr. Wells completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Washington, his master's degree at Washington State University, and his doctorate at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The following criteria were used to select professors for this list: